Challenging the stereotype? An analysis of the social and educational outcomes of the children of lone parents in the UK -PhD thesis-

Publication type

Thesis/Degree/Other Honours


Publication date

June 1, 2019


This thesis presents the results of a mixed methods study investigating the truth behind media claims that lone parenthood is detrimental to the social and educational outcomes of children. The research is informed by intersectionality theory, which I seek to apply to both methods used in the study, as well as theories about the power of the State from Marxist theorists Althusser and Gramsci. The first part of the study is a discourse analysis of how lone parenthood is discussed in the media, using articles referring to lone parents in The Times and The Guardian in 1993 and 2013. The analysis shows that while policy and media contexts use generic terminology to refer to lone parents, the more specific focus of the negative discourse on lone parenthood is on white, unmarried, young mothers who live on benefits and in social housing. These findings are reflected in the selected variables for the second phase of the research.
The second part of the research investigates whether there are any differences in the outcomes of the children of lone mothers when compared to peers who have not experienced lone motherhood. The outcomes studied are two subscales from the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire and Key Stage 4 (GCSE) results. The United Kingdom Household Longitudinal Survey and British Household Panel Survey datasets are used for the analysis, together with linked National Pupil Database data. A series of multiple regression models investigate any association between lone motherhood and the outcome measures, with the inclusion of covariates which mirror the key identity factors uncovered in the discourse analysis. The models are additionally run controlling for demographic factors such as maternal education, household size and young person’s age and gender, with the addition of the IDACI and free school meals indicators for the educational outcomes analysis.
The results of the quantitative analysis show that while there are initially some differences between the outcomes of children of lone mothers and their peers whose mothers have not experienced lone parenthood, this association lessens as additional factors are added into the model. Additionally, of the factors deemed important in the media discourse, marital status is not significant in any models, and maternal age in all but the Total Difficulties Score. Ethnicity is not significant for social outcomes, but is for educational outcomes, with White children performing worse at GCSE than children from other ethnic groups. In all models, social housing is associated with worse outcomes; that is, children whose mothers have ever lived in social housing achieved lower grades at GCSE and showed more behavioural difficulties than their contemporaries whose mothers had never lived in social housing, whether they were lone mothers or not.
The possible reasons for these results are discussed in the final chapter, focussing on how lone mothers are unfairly blamed in media and policy circles for the antisocial behaviour and educational attainment of children in modern society. The study shows children from lower income families have poorer social and educational outcomes. Women, who are already disadvantaged due to an inherent gender bias in society, are at a greater risk of economic instability and uncertainty, particularly women who are single-handedly raising families. In conclusion, there is no evidence for the pervasive and perpetual stereotype of lone motherhood as a deficit model of parenting; poverty is more important in determining young people’s social and educational outcomes.






Latest findings, new research

Publications search

Search all research by subject and author


Researchers discuss their findings and what they mean for society


Background and context, methods and data, aims and outputs


Conferences, seminars and workshops

Survey methodology

Specialist research, practice and study

Taking the long view

ISER's annual report


Key research themes and areas of interest